Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hand Me Your Car Keys Tonight!

To the small but spunky readership here at PP, I'd like to wish friend and foe alike a happy calendar year 2006. If you had a bad year, may 2006 be better; if you had a good year, may 2006 be at least as good. Hope your parties are fun too...



Will the PP end up like the lady here by midnight? Will he be slurring words incoherently and saying things like "I pershonally don't like Bahnshen preshupposhishinolishm and his transchen....transschie....[cough] his transchendenshal argument should embarrish thoshe Reshro...Reshormed people..." ?

Answer: only if somebody spikes his Diet Coke with Lime. The PP rarely drinks, not out of some moralistic principle, but out of a general dislike for the taste of alcoholic beverages. [Exception: wine coolers!] In one of the many proofs of his lack of sophistication, he prefers soda pop!

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Really Important Stuff is in Wikipedia

As of late, a new way to spend a 5-minute break surfing the 'net has been to try typing in obscure references into Wikipedia.org and seeing if somebody, somewhere, at some time, has written on the aforementioned obscure references. Sometimes, there will be an article on something weird that you just wouldn't find in Britannica, while many other times, my faith in human nature is tested by finding detailed articles on things of, shall we say, questionable importance!

Today, however, we hit the jackpot.

Doink the Clown

The Gobbledygooker

Apparently, some people who grew up with the spectacle of pro wrestling felt like the sum total of human knowledge at Wikipedia was not complete without an elucidation of two of the worst pro wrestling gimmicks/angles ever! :-)

Resurrections and Other Singularities

At the NTRMin discussion board, a skeptic [or atheist] makes the following request to others in a certain thread:

Do you have any non-controversial established cases of resurrection from the dead, so that I might stop seeing Jesus' resurrection as impossible and at least grant that it was within the realm of possibility? I am very quick to conclude that apologists have no proof for resurrection from death outside of the special exception of Jesus precisely because such a thing is an impossibility.

This statement might go over well at a Freethinker meeting, but it has several flaws. These flaws are utterly basic.

(1) The point of the resurrection is that it is a singularity --- it is presented as a unique historical event. What gives it its value, importance, etc, is that something like this does not happen "in the natural course of things." This is one of the capstone demonstrations [if true] of Jesus' divinity, of His being the Son of God.

A category error is committed by demanding that an allegedly singular phenomenon conform to that of something that is already established as being possible in the natural order of things.

BTW --- had Jesus made a future claim on something in the natural order of things, that would, even if it had come to pass, hardly have had any sort of evidentiary value relative to the very strong claim He made regarding his deity and sonship.

(2) The atheist's demand effectively excludes being able to consider any sort of titillating historical singularity. Given that history is full of singular events --- some of them fantastic and thrilling --- we would, following the demand, have to suspend judgement on such items because we don't have other "non-controversial, established cases" of such items.

What matters for the evaluation of an event X is the evidence for it, the veracity of the eyewitnesses, the character, etc. Whether such a thing has happened or not before [or happens later] neither adds to nor subtracts from the value [or lack of value] of the testimony.

(3) To call the resurrection an "impossibility" begs the question, of course. Also, what exactly does the atheist here mean by "impossible" ? Is he speaking in terms of modalities: logically impossible? Is he speaking of a relative here: relatively impossible given a set K of background assumptions?

Certainly, there is nothing logically impossible about rising from the dead.

(4) Apologists have no "proof" of the resurrection, but they have good evidence for the resurrection. The basic points go something like this:

(a) It was in the Roman and Jewish authorities' interest to produce the body of Christ, but no body was produced.
(b) There was no immediate advantage to proclaiming the risen Lord. On the contrary, there was great social disadvantage.
(c) The risen Lord spent a good amount of time post-Resurrection with the disciples, who were hardly the credulous bunch. [See: St Thomas.]
(d) The apostles and intimate followers of Jesus often died horrible, grisly deaths, not on account of something that they merely thought was true [but could be possibly mistaken] but on account of something for which they possessed first-hand knowledge.

BTW --- we should talk in probabilities regarding historical evidence. My general experience with village atheists happens to be that they want proof, and anything less than proof is unsatisfactory. In reality, we deal with probabilities. The divines who defended the resurrection during the Deist Controversy a few centuries back handled [historical] things properly by speaking in terms of probabilities, not dogmatic certainties.

Let's change topic somewhat. In the same thread, the skeptic asks:

My first question to you to begin this phase is: What other source of ancient religious propaganda, outside the bible, do you accept as being a report of facts only and containing not the least bit of embellishment or untruth, as you view the New Testament? Your answer will tell me whether your view is based on analysis of the data, or whether you are committing the fallacy of special pleading by asking that we accord the religious propaganda of the NT gospels the special place of "facts-only-reporting" and refusing to grant this huge leap to other non-biblical ancient religious propaganda.

By way of reply:

(1) Referring to the Biblical texts as "ancient religious propaganda" is well-poisoning. The language tacitly assumes the very question of Biblical reliability is answered in the negative. This however, is the larger issue under discussion.

(2) The charge of special pleading only sticks if the pleading is in fact special. If some other claim X was made of a miracle and it had evidence at the level of (a)-(d) mentioned above, it would be special pleading to make a positive statement on the historicity of the resurrection while making a negative statement on X. So, one must say "put up or shut up" on this point: what other alleged miracles out there have the same standard of evidence?

(3) BTW --- let's say there is an alleged non-Christian miracle X out there with the same degree of evidence as, say, the resurrection. How does this advance the atheist thesis? The evidence for Christianity does not receive its impetus from the claim that miracles are exclusively in the Christian province. The whole posturing by the village atheist is just a red herring.

Example: Let's say that the evidence that Emperor Vespasian healed a blind man is on par with (a)-(d) above. I'd have no problem adding this to my list of "probably true" facts for the world. How does this impinge on evidences (a)-(d) of the Resurrection?

(4) There's something a bit darkly humorous about being lectured to regarding fallacies in the middle of a fallacy filled presentation!

The reader should note that I'm not so much as arguing for the resurrection here as I am merely pointing out very basic flaws in the atheist demands. The author of the quoted portions views himself as a voice of capital-R Reason, not given to superstition, a person who sees through religious propaganda, etc. But in the end, he commits elementary blunders that put the lie to these affectations.

I was going to say something particularly pointed here, but then I realized that I too used to make the same sorts of demands, arguments, etc as an undergraduate [and as a grad student too], and I was possibly a bit more obnoxious about making them. As a side personal note [this has no relevance to the thread but I'll say it nonetheless], it is not flattering to my self-image to realize that I used to posture like this too as a late teen and early twenty-something!!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chris-tian Ethics

For allegedly having superior strength, speed, and endurance, and for coming to my blog to inform me of such facts, I wish to inform C. Ryan Jenkins of Sola Gratia that I will terminate him.

It will take a few months in the gym, a few hundred protein shakes, and a large amount of interval training in the Kaleeeforneeeya sunshine, but ahl be baack Chris ... ahl be baaack...

Freedom Frosting on a Collectivist Cake

From the Conservative Party [United Kingdom] website:


BELIEFS

We believe in the family. But we shouldn’t preach to people about how they live their lives.

We must respond to the challenge of social breakdown by actively supporting marriage through the tax and benefits system. But in a more liberal and less deferential age, we must support all families, for example through childcare, because what matters most is that children are brought up in a stable, loving home.

We believe in personal responsibility. But not in selfish individualism.

So let us tackle the challenge of an increasingly atomised society by showing that personal responsibility is part of a shared responsibility; that we’re all in this together; that there’s a ‘we’ in our politics as well as a ‘me.’

We believe in lower taxes. But not in fostering greed or favouring the rich.

A strong economy needs competitive tax rates and good public infrastructure. So creating economic opportunity for all means fairly sharing the fruits of economic growth between lower taxes and strengthened public services.

We believe in high standards in health and education. But opt-outs and escape routes for the privileged few will never deliver high quality for all.

The challenge is to deliver equal access to first-class public services without burdening today’s generations with higher taxes, or tomorrow’s generations with higher debt. More choice, competition and local autonomy must be matched by strong leadership to raise standards.

We believe in limited government. But rolling back the state must never mean the weak are left behind.

We want civic society to flourish. We must help social enterprises and voluntary organisations do even more to tackle the entrenched problems that affect our communities, believing that there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state.

We believe in national sovereignty. But not in isolation and xenophobia.

Now is the time to fight for an open and flexible Europe, with a high growth, low unemployment future, recognising that Britain has always done best when she engages ethically and enthusiastically with the wider world.


By way of reply via PP Commentary:

The above collection of statements seems [to me] to be distillable into one simple sentence: We want socialism and collectivism but we hope you buy all of the freedom and individual responsibility rhetoric.

(1) Note how after mentioning "Personal responsibility" there is this knee-jerk reaction against "selfish individualism."

Frankly, I contend that we need more selfish individualists out there --- people who worry about themselves instead of poking around in the lives of others. We need more people who tell the state to go away so that they can lead their lives as they see fit.

(2) Note how "personal responsibility" is used in the same breath as "we're all in this together." That's like somebody calling themselves a libertarian collectivist. Words apparently have no meaning.

(3) Note the knee-jerk statement about "not favoring the rich" in a discussion of lowering taxes.

Fact: if you lower taxes, then the upper income folks, who have more possessions and a higher income than others, will benefit. Is this basic economic fact lost on those who wrote this platform statement?

I'm not rich. I don't know if I'll ever rise above the middle class here in the US. [Let's hope!] But I already pay less in taxes than a person making $200k per annum. I wish this latter person had to pay less taxes.

(4) "High standards in health and education" means more government involvement. People rarely do good jobs for free --- it costs money. Where is the money coming from? From taxpayers.

Let's stop using euphemisms for big government --- at least have the courage of your convictions and say what you think without the lofty rhetoric. If the Conservatives want large-scale government involvement in education and health care, they should say so and stop mangling words. At least Labour is more direct about wanting government in almost everything.

(5) "We believe in limited government..." Words truly have no meaning after all of the preceding qualifications above about health care, education, public access, taxation, etc.

This is psychologizing on my part, and thus quite questionable, but when you lack the courage of your convictions, you have to keep telling yourself I'm really a good person after all. Every collectivist qualification of a pro-individual statement feels [to me, I speak for nobody else] like the platform committee members are trying to have the same I'm sooooo compassionate feeling that is ubiquitous in those with more leftist attitudes.

(6) Note how national sovereignty is mentioned, but then in the same breath the knee-jerk response is "but we're not isolationists!" Why, that would be selfish for a country to look out for its own best interests.

******

Just like much of what passes for conservative ideology and policy here in the United States, the platform strikes me as a socialist cake with libertarian frosting. Those like me may at first enjoy the thin layer of frosting, but the cake underneath tastes rather putrid and gives one indigestion.

BTW, I don't want to throw around "socialist" as some sort of epithet. I personally do not like socialism, but if people want to be collectivists, that is their right as free rational agents. What I'm objecting to is the double-speak whereby one talks about freedom, personal responsibility, etc, out of one corner of one's mouth, while out of the other corner you're not saying anything that is different from those who want the loving Nanny State to live our lives for us. Just call it what it is. Present the choices honestly, with no deflecting flowery and lofty rhetoric.

******

As a student of worldviews, politics, etc over my adult life, I've come to the conviction --- and it grows stronger --- that certain ideas are formally and practically antithetical no matter how flowery the language is that connects them. You cannot have freedom, personal responsibility, private property, and so on, but have the State involved in taking your wealth, redistributing it, etc. You cannot have a free society, I'd contend, if government is powerful enough to enforce subsidized this and socialized that. From observing history as well as current affairs, there is no comfy middle ground where you can have "the best of both worlds."

In other words, you can't meaningfully sit on the fence dividing socialism and individualism. Well, you can try, but if you think for a minute about the embracing of contradictions, that fence can't feel too comfortable. Or so I'd contend.

If the Conservatives in Britain are worried about having their message be clear again to voters, they might start with the simple step of not contradicting themselves immediately after each pro-individual statement. I'd like to see our conservatives here in the US should do the same.

Meanie Village Atheists and Pinatas [Excursus on Twenty Leaky Buckets]

Once upon a time, an atheist was mean to me. He denigrated me in the name of Reason.

Atheists are a nasty lot. One of them cut me off on the freeway.

I knew a Freethinker who beat his wife. Atheism is misogynistic.

I see through atheistic communism's lie of equality when I compare the life of the proletariat with those of the commissars.

When I see people die under communist regimes, I know that atheism is cruel and murderous.

Atheism scares children by telling them that they're particles and by not providing an objective justification for right and wrong.

Some atheists practice the dictum "to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs."

One village atheist I knew was sexually repressed and couldn't perform in the bedroom due to her inhibitions.

Bertrand Russell's book has a spelling error on page 32 of my copy of Why I Am Not a Christian.

Some atheists support big-government routines to guarantee "equality" and "justice." They want to make my life their business.

When I see Christians persecuted by atheist regimes, I know that atheism must be false.

******

Aren't those sorts of arguments above pretty silly if I'm trying to talk to an atheist? Seriously speaking, don't you feel as if you need a shower after reading those polemical words against atheism? Upon hearing such anti-atheist arguments, can you not feel your IQ drop a few points, as if you had just watched a three-hanky episode of Oprah?

But our pamphleteer in the Twenty Leaky Buckets series makes those same types of arguments in the cause of deconverting Christians. He makes them with a straight face, shamelessly and boldly.

******

So far, he has not impacted the historical or metaphysical evidence for the Christian religion, despite presenting fifteen arguments. While reading and commenting on his attempts to get at the heart of the evidence for the religion, the image that comes to my mind is that of an uncoordinated and blindfolded kid trying to whack a pinata. However, the kid is facing the wrong direction, and he keeps whacking himself on the back of the head due to an excessive backswing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fascination for Fascination

It's 1983, and you know you totally want to play [Keep Feeling] Fascination over and over on your cassette player...

Seriously speaking, I believe Fascination is one of the catchiest pop songs ever, besides being an exquisite period piece for the glorious early-80's New Wave synth-pop. The main synth-riff is a very fat monophonic analog [?] synthesizer playing D-F-G-G-G-F-A-D with some obligatory cheesy 80's chick vocals. [To avoid confusion, the F, G, and A are the pitches on the same octave as the initial and terminating D.]

Cheesy or not, I played the song 12 times in my car last night. I drove home from a friend's place, which only takes about 10 minutes. But the tune was so catchy [it was #1 in the Dance Club charts back in '83 --- not that I knew that fact 22 years ago] I just drove around the neighborhood close to midnight just to keep listening to the track.

[[Too bad digital and frequency modulation keyboards came along in the mid-80's and pushed the analog synths into the background, but that's op-ed piece for another time here at PP.]]

Monday, December 26, 2005

I Tell It Like It Is

Tonight's the last episode of Monday Night Football on ABC. When I left, it had nowhere to go but down, being filled with ex-jocks and ex-coaches. In a truly lugubrious display of watered-down journalism, they simply didn't tell it like it is, or was.

Frankly, what pro football has turned into sickens and disgusts me. The NFL is a corporate entity, more marketing than product. They stifle free expression, just as the government tried to stifle Cassius Clay, taking away his right to make a living as a boxer. But I told Cassius that he could rip off my hairpiece if he won the fight.

Over lunch with Commissioner Tagliabue of the NFL, I told him "Paul, when are you and your corporate lackeys going to do something about the game. You're almost as bad as boxing with its alphabet soup agencies! I need a good shower after being associated with boxing, but that's a tale for another time." I said the same thing to the President at brunch this last weekend, and don't think he didn't listen to me.

Sure, I never played the game. But I simply tell it like it is. Dandy Don and ol' Frank --- they're just ex-jocks who don't belong in the booth. Their commentary is so pedestrian that it twaddles the mind of the modern man.

Where's my cigar?! If you moved it, I'll beat you senseless.

Twenty Leaky Buckets --- Part 4

Taking a few days off from this little mini-series, we return with Part 3.

The pamphlet 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity is here.

Part One, a general discussion, is found here.

Part 1.5 consists of some comments on general village atheist themes and is found here. I enumerated five fallacies that are common to most of the arguments in the pamphlet.

Part 2 gives some quick comments as to why reasons one through five really aren't arguments that cause me, a conservative Evangelical, to think twice. That link is here.

Part 3 deals with arguments six through ten. That link is here.

Please keep in mind that the pamphlet gives reasons to abandon Christianity. My question throughout this mini-series is this: are any of the reasons anything to give somebody like myself any sort of pause? Presumably, the pamphlet is written in an attempt towards deconversion, or, to put it positively, anti-Christian evangelism. The intended audience therefore appears to be people who all themselves Christian.

******

I'm a classical card-carrying evidentialist [and you should be too!]. That means, among other things that the way to attack the historical and evidential basis for Christianity is to argue that the evidence for the supernatural phenomena that undergird the Christian religion is poor, or not as good as that of some other competing worldview. My apologetic is at home with the great English, Scottish, and Irish divines who defended the Resurrection and the veracity of the gospels against the humanists and the deists in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Personally speaking, I have little patience with what I understand Reformed epistemology and presuppositionalism to be.

******

Let's return to the pamphlet. So far, I've argued in Parts 2 and 3 that all we're presented with is a laundry list of sociological claims reflecting nothing more than the pamphleteer's dislike of things. Pointing out that some Christians do things of which the pamphleteer is displeased is not any sort of an argument against Christianity. Imputing the behavior of a subset of self-proclaimed Christians to that of the entire religion and then castigating the religion on this imputed global behavior is likewise a non-argument. Discussing the political differences between Christians and the pamphleteer on issues such as, say, abortion, is a non-argument. Asserting that Christianity does not allow for full sexual fulfillment is also a non-argument relative to an evidentialist like myself.

So, reasons one through ten are nothing more than the pamphleteer's self-righteous little rant. Are arguments eleven through fifteen any better?

*****

Argument eleven is that Christianity "has an exceedingly narrow and legalistic view of morality."

Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behavior, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while at the same time they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive. Another very relevant example is that until the latter part of the 19th century Christians engaged in the slave trade, and Christian preachers defended it, citing biblical passages, from the pulpit. Today, with the exception of a relatively few liberal churchgoers, Christians ignore the very real evils plaguing our society—poverty; homelessness; hunger; militarism; a grossly unfair distribution of wealth and income; ecological despoliation exacerbated by corporate greed; overpopulation; sexism; racism; homophobia; freedom-denying, invasive drug laws; an inadequate educational system; etc., etc.—unless they’re actively working to worsen those evils in the name of Christian morality or "family values."

By way of reply:

(a) Saying that Christianity produces an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality is very reductionistic. Which Christians are we discussing? What about Romans 14, say? What about the interplay between our liberty and the more sensitive consciences of other believers? Etc. Just what is the pamphleteer getting at here?

(b) Apparently, the pamphleteer is getting at the Inquisition and those who justify slavery.

For the Inquisition, let the Romanists deal with that. I'm Evangelical.

For slavery, again, even if we grant the premise here [and I don't in totality], again just what does this have to do with, say, the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, etc? We're treated to another instantiation of fallacy (2).

Let's be frank here. The NT and the OT do not conform to libertarian impulses. Paul states roughly that we should be content with our lot in life. Those who are slaves should try to do a good job, but, if they can pursue freedom, so much the better. The brief epistle to Philemon also will not conform to an across-the-board anti-slavery mentality.

The reader must ask himself here: how does this affect the evidence for or against the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, etc? My answer is that the eleventh argument is another sociological observation that is a non sequitur relative to the main theme of the pamphlet.

(c) Note that the pamphleteer has this habit of making sweeping sociological claims based on no actual numbers or evidence cited. So when he charges Christians with ignoring what he calls "the very real evils" plaguing society, it is an evidence-free claim.

Also, has the pamphleteer ever heard of Catholic and Christian charities? It seems that the answer is no.

Regardless, even if the worst of the claim of the pamphleteer is correct, so what? This doesn't affect the historical evidence.

It looks like the eleventh time is not the charm.

******

Argument twelve is that "Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils."

Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the status quo and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on sexual issues, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, "The poor ye have always with you." When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, "That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will." One suspects that 200 years ago their forebears would have said exactly the same thing about slavery.

This regressive, conservative tendency of Christianity has been present from its very start. The Bible is quite explicit in its instructions to accept the status quo: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." (Romans 13:1–2)


(a) The pamphleteer is really stuck on sex. Yet he accuses Christians of being monomaniacally focused on sex.

(b) No evidence supporting the contentions in the first paragraph is given. In line with the last sentence of the first paragraph, one suspects that the pamphleteer is just as intellectually lazy as other pamphleteers 200 years ago.

(c) For the second paragraph, what about the the anti-slavery abolitionist factions in the Northern states in the nineteenth century?

(d) Don't you love the context-free citation of Romans without any other consideration of what the NT has to say on the matter?

(e) This is another this-is-what-I-don't-like-about-Christians rant. The evidence for/against the Resurrection, veracity of the gospels, etc, is unchanged.

Yawn.

******

After twelve non-argument arguments, one would suspect that the thirteenth will be equally flabby. And one's suspsicions will be, as will be seen, right on the money.
Apparently, the thirteenth charge is that "Christianity depreciates the natural world."

In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with "the things of this world" (except, of course, their neighbors’ sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this "vale of tears" is not important—what matters is preparing for the next life. (Of course it follows from this that the "vale of tears" itself is quite unimportant—it’s merely the backdrop to the testing of the faithful.)

The Christian belief in the unimportance of happiness and well-being in this world is well illustrated by a statement by St. Alphonsus:

It would be a great advantage to suffer during all our lives all the torments of the martyrs in exchange for one moment of heaven. Sufferings in this world are a sign that God loves us and intends to save us.

This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes. Ronald Reagan’s fundamentalist Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, went so far as to actively encourage the strip mining and clear cutting of the American West, reasoning that ecological damage didn’t matter because the "rapture" was at hand.


(a) Note the pamphleteer's focus on sex again. Methinks he is a little single-minded.

(b) Perhaps Christians worry about the life to come because, uh, scripture talks about this to a good degree.

(c) Even if the charge that Christians don't concern themselves with "this life" is true, how is this an argument against, say, the eyewitness testimony or the evidences for the Christian religion? All we have here is yet another thing the pamphleteer, if he's right, doesn't like. Why should I care about his sensibilities, especially when his first thirteen reasons have nothing to do with their actual thesis?

(d) But I'd contend the pamphleteer's claim is not even close to globally true. Those of us who are Biblically literate [unlike the pamphleteer] know that both the OT and NT speak to practical matters and our conduct in "this life" to a good degree. Has the pamphleteer ever heard of "Practical Theology" ?

(e) Somehow, St Alphonsus is taken as representative of Christianity. How?

(f) But at the same time, St Paul tells believers to expect sufferings and even mentions persecution as a sign that believers are, in fact, in the church.

(g) Somehow, without an argument, James Watt is taken as representative of Christianity. How?

Again, this argument doesn't make somebody like me think twice about the evidences for/against Christianity.

*****

Christianity, in the fourteenth argument, "models hierarchical, authoritarian organization."

Before presenting the argument here, we ask, so what?.

How does this claim, even if true, affect the validity of the eyewitness testimony, the veracity of the gospels, etc?

The argument is as follows:

Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its "servants," the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in the area of organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change toward freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

(a) Hmmm, if we model an organization that includes God, one would think God would be on top. How is this shocking?

(b) The pamphleteer doesn't like Romanism. OK, but I thought we were discussing reasons to abandon Christianity, not whether he's going to start donating money to Mother Angelica's EWTN channel.

(c) I must be missing the argument connecting Christianity with the powerful influence against social change towards freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

It is rather funny, as a Christian and as a small-l libertarian, to see a village atheist write this sort of thing.

(d) We're again struck by the lack of any evidence presented with these sweeping claims.

Zero for fourteen. At this rate, I don't know if I can stomach doing Part 4. What a waste of 20 minutes, even if after a good run and a hot shower.

******

The fifteenth argument is as follows:

15. Christianity sanctions slavery. The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as "Mercy" and "Jesus," where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.

The Christians who supported and engaged in slavery were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20–21: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9–10, Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:44–46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America were well acquainted with these passages.


(a) Let's say the worst of the pamphleteer's claims are true. Again, what does this have to do with the evidence for Christianity?

(b) Note the equivocation between "slavery" as discussed in a New World and American context and the ANE conceptions and Greco-Roman conceptions of slavery, as if they're the same. Illiterate and lazy, but then again, these are hallmarks of your rabble-rousing pamphleteers.

(c) How does the claim that the Bible "supports slavery" impinge on the evidence for the Resurrection, the veracity of the gospels, and so on? Argument, please.

******

Well, zero for fifteen at this stage.

BTW, I don't take any pleasure out of doing this, but I started it and intend to finish it. One could say that, out of fifteen reasons so far, one could say more, but, and I'll state again, having a big list of reasons doesn't require too much a response if the arguments commit the same few fallacies over and over.

Again, at best, the pamphlet has so far shown that some Christians have been really bad people. This doesn't impinge on any of the historical evidences.

As a closing note, I'm not concerned with defending Christians on some sociological level. The point of the miniseries is to merely ask whether I need, as a conservative Evangelical, to re-evaluate how I view or weigh the evidence for the Christian religion based on these arguments given.

So far, nothing has changed.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

BMI: RIP

[I'm tempted to have another piece of pumpkin pie, so I'll put up a blog post to withstand the craving. Blogging is a good thing by which one can ward off the munchies...]

Have you ever calculated your body mass index [BMI]?

If not, here is a site where you can do so. The categories are: <18.5 = underweight; 18.5-24.9 = normal; 25-29.9 = overweight; and >30 means obese. Feel free to share your BMI with the world!

Last night [Christmas Eve], I was goofing around on the computer and decided to check mine out. I'm 6' and weigh 215 lbs. The BMI calculator says that the PP BMI is a whopping 29.2. According to this scale, I'm barely out of the obese range and am on the outer fringe of the overweight range!

If we accept this, I'm one of those American fatties. From the Wikipedia article on the topic of BMI, a 1994 survey seemed to indicate that three fifths of American males were [at least] overweight, having a BMI over 25; half of American females were [at least] overweight as well.

Consulting various "What weight should you be for your height" calculators, I've seen that 6' large-framed adult males should be around 165 lbs at lowest up to a maximum of 190 lbs.

So, I'm between 25 and 50 lbs overweight according to these scales. I'm obese according to the BMI scale.

******

But are these one-size-fits-all calculators really worth anything? Let's review the facts:

(i) My waist is 32-33". I have no gut whatsoever, and you can see my upper abs.
(ii) I run 30-35 miles per week on a treadmill and the street.
(iii) I play full-court basketball two nights a week.
(iv) I lift weights fairly intensely for about an hour at a time, four or five times per week, usually with the Daveman.
(v) I could crack a 7' mile [and then I'd get sick to my stomach], and could put out at least 15-16 miles with rested legs. [Note: I was so enflamed at being called obese by a BMI calculation that I ran 8 miles around the neighborhood at 10pm on Christmas Eve just to stick it to the BMI calculator.]
(vi) I eat fairly well, eschewing junk food, fast food, sugared colas, etc.
(vii) Resting pulse rate = mid 40's. The nurse stated that was very low, but then I told her about (ii)-(v) above. So, if I understand her correctly, I have a very low resting pulse rate due to all the cardio conditioning.

6' overweight and borderline "obese" people [relative to BMI] are not supposed to have 32" waists while kickin' out half marathons on little more than a whim. Fatties can't crack 7' miles or chug out 7 miles at a sub 8-minute pace.

******

Now I'd like to hit 190 lbs within the next three or four months. That would take me from a good physique to a very good physique or "somewhat ripped." I could run and run and run down to 190, but then I'd lose muscle and strength, so that sort of weight loss is sub-optimal. The trick is to hit 190 while adding to strength. Surely, dropping another 25 lbs [mostly fat, we hope] will push me into the "normal" range on the BMI and out of the "overweight" range?

Well, the BMI calculator gives a BMI of 25.8 once this goal is achieved. Take a good athlete, lop off another 25 lbs, and he drops from 29.2 to 25.8. He's getting close to the "normal weight" category, but he'd *still* be overweight according to the BMI system.

I'd have to drop into the high 170's to low 180's just to get at the high end of the "normal weight" range. The last time I weighed 178 was in 1989-1990 [Age 18-19]and I was bagging groceries for close to minimum wage at a local supermarket. Even with a 29" waist at the time [the good ol' days], I'd still be slightly overweight.

******

Starting February or March, I'm going to go on one of those bodybuilder "shredding" diets [or will try to do so] because I'd like to get my body fat percentage down under 15% or even under 10%. I'm not sure how successful it will be, but it will be an interesting experiment. At 34, you're not getting any younger, and it would be fun just to see how far one can [healthily] go, even though one has the creeping suspicion that you can't keep it under 10% for too long if you want to have a life! Even then, the BMI will probably list me as obese or overweight.


******

Most of the guys I played basketball with and lifted with would also be considered obese by the BMI calculators. When you see some 5' 10" running back who weighs 235 lbs, he's severly obese by the BMI, even though he runs a 4.4 second 40 yard dash. Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, who I believe weighs 250+ lbs, would be moogoo obese by the BMI scale. My favorite NBA player, Peja Stojakovic, who is 6'9" and 220 or so [he's pretty lean], is very close to "overweight" by the BMI scale. Shaq is very obese by this scale.

Some of the bodybuilder types at the health club would also be considered pretty obese by the BMI scale alone, even though they're ripped and anaerobically well-conditioned.

******

The whole little excursion to these sites has been interesting. If the BMI calculation is used as a major or sole determinant of whether somebody is overweight, it is a small wonder that some survey lists 60% of American males as overweight [and 50% of females too].

None of this is to make excuses for, nor to justify, the "fat lifestyle." [Though I've been on both ends of the fence, trust me.] Being overweight is no moral failure [perhaps a failure in other ways though], though chances are that people will find you less attractive in a first world Western culture if you're packing the lbs on. And it is not "society's fault" that people are overweight, either, but people are responsible for their own lifestyles and choices.

Personally speaking, I've been at both extremes, having gone from running 7 miles at a 7 minute/mile pace to a weight that should not be mentioned in polite company! Losing weight is not difficult [most of the time], but, alas, gaining bad weight is not difficult either!

Once again, I wonder if those survey numbers mentioned above really tell the whole story. If BMI is the sole or major numerical measure, then the percentage of overweight/obese people reported is higher than reality. And if healthy athletic people whose doctors commend them on their most excellent health and conditioning are considered obese and overweight by this scale, what value does this scale have?

In the end, it seems that you have to be some really skinny person with non-muscular legs, or some extremely lean person, to meet the BMI's approval. I'm not writing this out of any defensive feeling, [hmmm...typing that sounds defensive], but, c'mon, when a measuring system gives you results and labels that defy in-your-face reality, you just have to wonder.

Anybody else in the same boat?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA



Since the KC Chiefs probably aren't going to make the playoffs, I have to take pleasure in seeing the Oakland Raiders --- representatives of all that is evil and wrong in a fallen world --- have a miserable season. It is all that Chiefs fans can live for, sorry lot that we are.

I'd like to also throw a big BAH HUMBUG in the direction of Denver Broncos fans. You're not in as deep a circle of the Inferno as are Raider fans, but you're still pretty deep down there, to be sure.

Happy Christmas to All

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pedantonomics --- Part One

Why is health care so expensive?

This question is asked by many people, often with an indignant tone.

Here are some of the major answers:

(1) Government regulation.
(2) The threat of litigation.
(3) The scarcity of the service.
(4) The fact that doctors are deep in debt upon completion of residency.
(5) The fact that pharmaceutical companies invest [tens of] millions of dollars into experimental drugs for years with no guarantee that the drugs will pan out or be approved by the gov't.

You can't complicate doctor's lives with forms, paperwork, bureacracy, and then tell people that they have a "right" to "free" or "subsidized" health care, and then have an industry dedicated to suing hospitals, physicians, pharma companies, etc, without

(i) decreasing the time doctors have to actually practice their trade,
(ii) causing doctors to have to perform needless tests in order to make them less lawsuit-prone,

and

(iii) causing physicians to be inundated with people who, by virtue of having free or subsidized service, do not treat the service as a rare commodity.

All of these things decrease supply without removing any of the demand. Ergo, the price of health care goes up. This is basic supply-'n'-demand.

Also, when you come out of med school about $150,000 in debt and you start some $30,000 per year residency for a few years where you work 60-80 hour weeks, you're not able to get out of debt. Should somebody who has gone through residency then sell their services for cheap?

Let's say they do. What financial incentive is there to practice medicine then? You go through hell and then you're in debt and you don't make enough money to have a decent life if you want to pay off the debt.

There's a reason why people don't say "I want to flip burgers at McDonald's for my career" and instead think of, say, law, financial fields, etc. The answer is that you make more money in the latter fields [typically].

Now if you remove the financial incentive from medicine, you'll have a shortage of doctors, for people typically don't want to do a lot of work for low pay. Then the supply of doctors diminishes even more, and the cost goes up. The attempt to regulate the cost of medicine will, like most if not all government attempts at regulating prices apart from the free market, make the service or item more expensive.

If you want to "stick it" to pharmaceutical companies and put price caps on their products, or merely to get in the way of the market, you make it unprofitable for a company to pursue research, to take chances, to venture on new drugs. Why should a company spends tens of millions of dollars in R&D hoping that the drug pans out and is ultimately approved by the gov't if it is then forced to sell the drug at a price that does not let them recover the costs that have been built up not only for that drug, but for the other drugs that do not see the light of day?

******

In the socialist world, one doesn't have to worry about these minor details. It sounds good to talk about free health care, income ceilings for doctors, equality, rights to health care, and other fuzzy-wuzzy constructs of an imagination that believes the world must conform to the latest trend of social justice.

Online Christmas Card from PP

Let's pretend that I bought you a card.

Let's pretend it's a nice card with an exterior that says Merry Christmas.

Let's pretend next that when you open the card, the inside says May your Christmas be blessed!

Let's further pretend that it is signed With great cordiality, the ever-luvin' staff at PP.

Let's pretend in addition that you really like the card, especially the nice red envelope it came in. And observe that great handwriting on the envelope!

Let's pretend too that you put the card up on your mantle because it is such a nice card.

Keep pretending until you throw out all of your Christmas cards. At that point, you can drop the charade.

If you'd like, you have our permission to pretend in addition that you got just the present you wanted sent carefully wrapped in a nice package delivered by a pleasant and courteous UPS or FedEx person at your home on the 24th, with the words Pedantic Protestant being written in the return address window.

******

There's your online Christmas card from the hard-working staff here at Pedantic Protestant.

In the meanwhile, due to increased corporate profitability here at PP, I'm able to make a $100 donation in each of our 100 readers' names to The Human Fund.

Merry Christmas to all readers, and have a fun blessed Christmas! :-)

Twenty Leaky Buckets --- Part Three

Parts 1, 1.5, and 2 are found here, here, and here, respectively.

Does this pamphlet titled 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity give any good reasons against historic Christianity as held by an Evangelial with a high view of scripture? So far, I've pointed out that the first five arguments in the pamphlet really have no logical or evidential connection with claims such as Jesus rose bodily from the dead, The gospels are historically reliable, etc. On the contrary, the five so-called arguments are nothing more than an inventory of the pamphleteer's lists of things he doesn't like about the behavior of various subsets of self-identified Christians. Since no argument is given as to why the pamphleteer's preferences and sensibilities have any sort of objective justification, nothing in the pamphlet takes hold of my conscience.

Let's return to the pamphleteer's arguments.

*******

(vi) Christianity breeds authoritarianism.

Given that Christians claim to have the one true faith, to have a book that is the Word of God, and (in many cases) to receive guidance directly from God, they feel little or no compunction about using force and coercion to enforce "God’s Will" (which they, of course, interpret and understand). Given that they believe (or pretend) that they’re receiving orders from the Almighty (who would cast them into hell should they disobey), it’s little wonder that they feel no reluctance, and in fact are eager, to intrude into the most personal aspects of the lives of nonbelievers. This is most obvious today in the area of sex, with Christians attempting to deny women the right to abortion and to mandate near-useless abstinence-only sex "education" in the public schools. It’s also obvious in the area of education, with Christians attempting to force biology teachers to teach their creation myth (but not those of Hindus, Native Americans, et al.) in place of (or as being equally valid as) the very well established theory of evolution. But the authoritarian tendencies of Christianity reach much further than this.

Up until well into the 20th century in the United States and other Christian countries (notably Ireland), Christian churches pressured governments into passing laws forbidding the sale and distribution of birth control devices, and they also managed to enact laws forbidding even the description of birth control devices. This assault on free speech was part and parcel of Christianity’s shameful history of attempting to suppress "indecent" and "subversive" materials (and to throw their producers in jail or burn them alive). This anti-free speech stance of Christianity dates back centuries, with the cases of Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno (who was burnt alive) being good illustrations of it. Perhaps the most colorful example of this intrusive Christian tendency toward censorship is the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, which dates from the 16th century and which was abandoned only in the latter part of the 20th century—not because the church recognized it as a crime against human freedom, but because it could no longer be enforced (not that it was ever systematically enforced—that was too big a job even for the Inquisition).

Christian authoritarianism extends, however, far beyond attempts to suppress free speech; it extends even to attempts to suppress freedom of belief. In the 15th century, under Ferdinand and Isabella at about the time of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, Spain’s Jews were ordered either to convert to Christianity or to flee the country; about half chose exile, while those who remained, the "Conversos," were favorite targets of the Inquisition. A few years later, Spain’s Muslims were forced to make a similar choice.

This Christian hatred of freedom of belief—and of individual freedom in general—extends to this day. Up until the late 19th century in England, atheists who had the temerity to openly advocate their beliefs were jailed. Even today in many parts of the United States laws still exist that forbid atheists from serving on juries or from holding public office. And it’s no mystery what the driving force is behind laws against victimless "crimes" such as nudity, sodomy, fornication, cohabitation, and prostitution.

If your nonintrusive beliefs or actions are not in accord with Christian "morality," you can bet that Christians will feel completely justified—not to mention righteous—in poking their noses (often in the form of state police agencies) into your private life.


(a) This is another this-is-what-I-don't-like-about-some-Christians sort of lecture.

(b) Again, if the pamphleteer doesn't like the political actions of some Christians, just how is this an argument against Christianity?

(c) I'm not responsible for defending Rome here. If the pamphleteer has problems with what the Roman Catholic Church has allegedly done in the past, it isn't my prob.

(d) Given that a large segment of Christians, myself included, are libertarian in political view, or at least do not like Big Government, it is rather at odds with reality for the pamphleteer to charge that "This Christian hatred of freedom of belief—and of individual freedom in general—extends to this day" and "If your nonintrusive beliefs or actions are not in accord with Christian `morality,' you can bet that Christians will feel completely justified—not to mention righteous—in poking their noses (often in the form of state police agencies) into your private life."

We have another sweeping claim bereft of supporting data here.

*******

The seventh argument is that Christianity is just plain "cruel":

Throughout its history, cruelty—both to self and others—has been one of the most prominent features of Christianity. From its very start, Christianity, with its bleak view of life, its emphasis upon sexual sin, and its almost impossible-to-meet demands for sexual "purity," encouraged guilt, penance, and self-torture. Today, this self-torture is primarily psychological, in the form of guilt arising from following (or denying, and thus obsessing over) one’s natural sexual desires. In earlier centuries, it was often physical. W.E.H. Lecky relates:

For about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as the highest proof of excellence. . . . The cleanliness of the body was regarded as a pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become one hideous mass of clotted filth. . . . But of all the evidences of the loathsome excesses to which this spirit was carried, the life of St. Simeon Stylites is probably the most remarkable. . . . He had bound a rope around him so that it became embedded in his flesh, which putrefied around it. A horrible stench, intolerable to the bystanders, exhaled from his body, and worms dropped from him whenever he moved, and they filled his bed. . . . For a whole year, we are told, St. Simeon stood upon one leg, the other being covered with hideous ulcers, while his biographer [St. Anthony] was commissioned to stand by his side, to pick up the worms that fell from his body, and to replace them in the sores, the saint saying to the worms, "Eat what God has given you." From every quarter pilgrims of every degree thronged to do him homage. A crowd of prelates followed him to the grave. A brilliant star is said to have shone miraculously over his pillar; the general voice of mankind pronounced him to be the highest model of a Christian saint; and several other anchorites [Christian hermits] imitated or emulated his penances.

Given that the Bible nowhere condemns torture and sometimes prescribes shockingly cruel penalties (such as burning alive), and that Christians so wholeheartedly approved of self-torture, it’s not surprising that they thought little of inflicting appallingly cruel treatment upon others. At the height of Christianity’s power and influence, hundreds of thousands of "witches" were brutally tortured and burned alive under the auspices of ecclesiastical witch finders, and the Inquisition visited similarly cruel treatment upon those accused of heresy. Henry Charles Lea records:

Two hundred wretches crowded the filthy gaol and it was requisite to forbid the rest of the Conversos [Jews intimidated into converting to Christianity] from leaving the city [Jaen, Spain] without a license. With Diego’s assistance [Diego de Algeciras, a petty criminal and kept perjurer] and the free use of torture, on both accused and witnesses, it was not difficult to obtain whatever evidence was desired. The notary of the tribunal, Antonio de Barcena, was especially successful in this. On one occasion, he locked a young girl of fifteen in a room, stripped her naked and scourged her until she consented to bear testimony against her mother. A prisoner was carried in a chair to the auto da fe with his feet burnt to the bone; he and his wife were burnt alive . . . The cells in which the unfortunates were confined in heavy chains were narrow, dark, humid, filthy and overrun with vermin, while their sequestrated property was squandered by the officials, so that they nearly starved in prison while their helpless children starved outside.

While the torture and murder of heretics and "witches" is now largely a thing of the past, Christians can still be remarkably cruel. One current example is provided by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Its members picket the funerals of victims of AIDS and gay bashings, brandishing signs reading, "God Hates Fags," "AIDS Cures Fags," and "Thank God for AIDS." The pastor of this church reportedly once sent a "condolence" card to the bereaved mother of an AIDS victim, reading "Another Dead Fag."(2) Christians are also at the forefront of those advocating vicious, life-destroying penalties for those who commit victimless "crimes," as well as being at the forefront of those who support the death penalty and those who want to make prison conditions even more barbaric than they are now.

But this should not be surprising coming from Christians, members of a religion that teaches that eternal torture is not only justified, but that the "saved" will enjoy seeing the torture of others. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it:

In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful and that they may give to God more copious thanks for it, they are permitted perfectly to behold the sufferings of the damned . . . The saints will rejoice in the punishment of the damned.

Thus the vision of heaven of Christianity’s greatest theologian is a vision of the sadistic enjoyment of endless torture.


(a) Whereas some individual Christians or groups had a low view of sexual relations, the pamphleteer seems to conveniently forget about Paul's admonitions in 1 Corinthians about spouses rendering unto their spouses their sexual due.

(b) The sweeping claim that Christians self-torture themselves over sex is, like the other assertions, devoid of any support.

(c) The anecdote about St Simeon Stylites lends no argument against somebody like myself who looks dimly upon monasticism and ascetism.

(d) I'm not responsible for the Inquisition. And, given that I've burned no witches nor publicly called for their burning, I'm left wondering just what evidence against Christianity the pamphleteer is making. Again --- how does this relate to the evidence for the veracity of scripture and the supernatural historical claims of, say, the Resurrection?

(e) Again, fallacies (2) and (3) are prominently on display here. Somehow, the "God Hates Fags" group's behavior is mysteriously imputed to Christianity-in-general, no argument given.

(f) A pamphleteer picking on St Thomas is rather brazen. The pamphleteer never considers the possibility that if God is perfectly just, good, etc, then Christians cannot help but celebrate and bask in God's judgement, hence under the Christian framework Christians are not acting out of logical character. This of course will, in accordance with fallacy (1), infuriate the pamphleteer's sensibilities, but again, in a formally logical sense, why should I care about his sensibilities when they're proffered without any sort of argument.

(g) The pamphleteer seems unaware that non-Christians sometimes are against abortion. Some atheists support the death penalty.

This is getting tiring, but the show goes on:

*******

The eight argument is that Christianity is anti-intellectual and anti-scientific.

(viii) For over a millennium Christianity arrested the development of science and scientific thinking. In Christendom, from the time of Augustine until the Renaissance, systematic investigation of the natural world was restricted to theological investigation—the interpretation of biblical passages, the gleaning of clues from the lives of the saints, etc.; there was no direct observation and interpretation of natural processes, because that was considered a useless pursuit, as all knowledge resided in scripture. The results of this are well known: scientific knowledge advanced hardly an inch in the over 1000 years from the rise of orthodox Christianity in the fourth century to the 1500s, and the populace was mired in the deepest squalor and ignorance, living in dire fear of the supernatural—believing in paranormal explanations for the most ordinary natural events. This ignorance had tragic results: it made the populace more than ready to accept witchcraft as an explanation for everything from illness to thunderstorms, and hundreds of thousands of women paid for that ignorance with their lives. One of the commonest charges against witches was that they had raised hailstorms or other weather disturbances to cause misfortune to their neighbors. In an era when supernatural explanations were readily accepted, such charges held weight—and countless innocent people died horrible deaths as a result. Another result was that the fearful populace remained very dependent upon Christianity and its clerical wise men for protection against the supernatural evils which they believed surrounded and constantly menaced them. For men and women of the Middle Ages, the walls veritably crawled with demons and witches; and their only protection from those evils was the church.

When scientific investigation into the natural world resumed in the Renaissance—after a 1000-year-plus hiatus—organized Christianity did everything it could to stamp it out. The cases of Copernicus and Galileo are particularly relevant here, because when the Catholic Church banned the Copernican theory (that the Earth revolves around the sun) and banned Galileo from teaching it, it did not consider the evidence for that theory: it was enough that it contradicted scripture. Given that the Copernican theory directly contradicted the Word of God, the Catholic hierarchy reasoned that it must be false. Protestants shared this view. John Calvin rhetorically asked, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”

More lately, the Catholic Church and the more liberal Protestant congregations have realized that fighting against science is a losing battle, and they’ve taken to claiming that there is no contradiction between science and religion. This is disingenuous at best. As long as Christian sects continue to claim as fact—without offering a shred of evidence beyond the anecdotal—that physically impossible events occurred (or are still occurring), the conflict between science and religion will remain. That many churchmen and many scientists seem content to let this conflict lie doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Today, however, the conflict between religion and science is largely being played out in the area of public school biology education, with Christian fundamentalists demanding that their creation myth be taught in place of (or along with) the theory of evolution in the public schools. Their tactics rely heavily on public misunderstanding of science. They nitpick the fossil record for its gaps (hardly surprising given that we inhabit a geologically and meteorologically very active planet), while offering absurd interpretations of their own which we’re supposed to accept at face value—such as that dinosaur fossils were placed in the earth by Satan to confuse humankind, or that Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark.

They also attempt to take advantage of public ignorance of the nature of scientific theories. In popular use, “theory” is employed as a synonym for “hypothesis,” “conjecture,” or even “wild guess,” that is, it signifies an idea with no special merit or backing. The use of the term in science is quite different. There, “theory” refers to a well-developed, logically consistent explanation of a phenomenon, and an explanation that is consistent with observed facts. This is very different than a wild guess. But fundamentalists deliberately confuse the two uses of the term in an attempt to make their religious myth appear as valid as a well-supported scientific theory.

They also attempt to confuse the issue by claiming that those nonspecialists who accept the theory of evolution have no more reason to do so than they have in accepting their religious creation myth, or even that those who accept evolution do so on “faith.” Again, this is more than a bit dishonest.

Thanks to scientific investigation, human knowledge has advanced to the point where no one can know more than a tiny fraction of the whole. Even the most knowledgeable scientists often know little beyond their specialty areas. But because of the structure of science, they (and everyone else) can feel reasonably secure in accepting the theories developed by scientists in other disciplines as the best possible current explanations of the areas of nature those disciplines cover. They (and we) can feel secure doing this because of the structure of science, and more particularly, because of the scientific method. That method basically consists of gathering as much information about a phenomenon (both in nature and in the laboratory) as possible, then developing explanations for it (hypotheses), and then testing the hypotheses to see how well they explain the observed facts, and whether or not any of those observed facts are inconsistent with the hypotheses. Those hypotheses that are inconsistent with observed facts are discarded or modified, while those that are consistent are retained, and those that survive repeated testing are often labeled “theories,” as in “the theory of relativity” and “the theory of evolution.”

This is the reason that nonspecialists are justified in accepting scientific theories outside their disciplines as the best current explanations of observed phenomena: those who developed the theories were following standard scientific practice and reasoning—and if they deviate from that, other scientists will quickly call them to task.

No matter how much fundamentalists might protest to the contrary, there is a world of difference between “faith” in scientific theories (produced using the scientific method, and subject to near-continual testing and scrutiny) and faith in the entirely unsupported myths recorded 3000 years ago by slave-holding goat herders.

Nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther, in his Table Talk, stated: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” The opposite is also true.


(a) Hmmm. I have a scientific doctorate and have written at a high technical level in mathematics, statistics, and philosophy. I happen to know several Christians who are professional philosophers in various areas. But we're the anti-intellectual ones. Uh-huh. Whatever. Thanks for playing.

(b) Again, I'm not responsible for the perceived crimes of Rome.

(c) I would say that a consistent Christian is anti-materialism and anti-naturalism, but not anti-science, unless "science" is a priori taken to be equivalent to applied methodological and/or ontological naturalism. But this rather begs the question, does it not?

(d) Those saliva-dripping bubbles you see coming out your screen are the pamphleteer's frothing here.

Again, where exactly is an argument against, say, the historicity of the gospels or the resurrection, etc, to be found here? Am I supposed to hold the argument up to a mirror and perhaps an actual argument can be read backwards off the reflection? Do I take every fifth letter and form an argument? Where is the argument? We have nothing but rhetoric here.

Basically, Christians are stupid. If you consider the Biblical texts authoritative, you're an ignoramus. The main piece of evidence for these claims is the use of pejorative adjectives by the pamphleteer. One would think that a champion of reason would realize that adjectives do not function as arguments, but one would seemingly be wrong...

*********

The ninth argument deals with sex, namely, the claim is advanced that Christians have "an unhealthy, morbid, preoccupation with sex."

(ix) For centuries, Christianity has had an exceptionally unhealthy fixation on sex, to the exclusion of almost everything else (except power, money, and the infliction of cruelty). This stems from the numerous "thou shalt nots" relating to sex in the Bible. That the Ten Commandments contain a commandment forbidding the coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife, but do not even mention slavery, torture, or cruelty—which were abundantly common in the time the Commandments were written— speaks volumes about their writer’s preoccupation with sex (and women as property).

Today, judging from the pronouncements of many Christian leaders, one would think that "morality" consists solely of what one does in one’s bedroom. The Catholic Church is the prime example here, with its moral pronouncements rarely going beyond the matters of birth control and abortion (and with its moral emphasis seemingly entirely on those matters). Also note that the official Catholic view of sex—that it’s for the purpose of procreation only—reduces human sexual relations to those of brood animals. For more than a century the Catholic Church has also been the driving force behind efforts to prohibit access to birth control devices and information—to everyone, not just Catholics.

The Catholic Church, however, is far from alone in its sick obsession with sex. The current Christian hate campaign against homosexuals is another prominent manifestation of this perverse preoccupation. Even at this writing, condemnation of "sodomites" from church pulpits is still very, very common—with Christian clergymen wringing their hands as they piously proclaim that their words of hate have nothing to do with gay bashings and the murder of gays.


(a) Basically, we have fallacy (1) on display here by the pamphleteer. He doesn't like certain views on sex, and this counts as probative evidence against the truth of Christianity. No justification is offered for why his views on sex are the standard par excellence for evaluating a worldview.

(b) Somehow, the pamphleteer feels as if he can get inside the Biblical author's [or authors'] head [or heads] to find a "preoccupation with sex." No argument is given for why this psychologizing has any connection with reality.

(c) That Rome is against abortion weighs as evidence against the Christian faith exactly how? Argument, please. How exactly do Christians have a "sick obsession" with sex? Argument, please.

BTW --- I reject the premise that procreation has to be kept in mind in sexual matters between spouses. If you want to do it for fun, for pleasure, for intimacy, for communication, there is nothing wrong with that. [Just don't kill a fertilized egg.] So, even if Rome teaches what the pamphleteer claims, I'm not RC, so I don't need to answer for that.

(d) "The current Christian hate campaign against homosexuals." Loaded language is fun, but it can't do the work of an argument. Orthodox Christians look askance at homosexual behavior because scripture clearly presents a negative view of it. The pamphleteer can rend his garment and beat his breast over it, but whether one likes it or not, the question of just how this is evidence against Christianity arises.

(e) Oh, and don't you love the imputation the murderous acts of a few people against homosexuals to Christianity-in-general?

With fallacies (1)-(3) instantiated again, there seems to be nothing here except, as has become the custom, a laundry list of grievances by the pamphleteer. The evidence [or lack therof] for/against, say, the Resurrection, the historicity of the gospels, etc, is unchanged by the first nine arguments presented in the pamphlet.

Perhaps the tenth time will be the charm.

*********

The pamphleteer continues his sex theme: Christianity produces sexual misery.

As a preliminary word [to break up the monotony], we again have fallacy (1) instantiated. Humans like sex. It feels good. It is generally fun.

If a worldview X says "go out and have sex 'til you drop" and worldview Y says "never, ever have sex" [these are extremes], does this fact by itself make X better ontologically supported than Y?

The answer is that X, taken by itself, is at best more consonant with human nature. Now as an ethical program, this might lead to preferring X to Y, everything else being equal. But Christianity, as is any worldview, is more than an ethical program. It is a collection of historical, metaphysical, and ethical theses all bound together.

I may not like being single [and hence celibate], but for me to complain that I'm not being fulfilled and then to use this as evidence against the empty tomb, the cross, the historicity of the gospels, etc, is to commit a non sequitur. Just what does this have to do with the evidence?

Likewise, if the Bible stated [somewhere] that Pedantic Protestants had license to cavort and frolic with any woman at any time, I might be a little less edgy at times, but again, for me to invoke this as positive evidence for Christianity is the same sort of non sequitur.

Basically: who says that a worldview has to conform to your urges? Argument, please.

Let's let our pamphleteer speak for himself:

In addition to the misery produced by authoritarian Christian intrusions into the sex lives of non-Christians, Christianity produces great misery among its own adherents through its insistence that sex (except the very narrow variety it sanctions) is evil, against God’s law. Christianity proscribes sex between unmarried people, sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, bestiality, (3) and even “impure” sexual thoughts. Indulging in such things can and will, in the conventional Christian view, lead straight to hell.

Given that human beings are by nature highly sexual beings, and that their urges very often do not fit into the only officially sanctioned Christian form of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual marriage), it’s inevitable that those who attempt to follow Christian “morality” in this area are often miserable, as their strongest urges run smack dab into the wall of religious belief. This is inevitable in Christian adolescents and unmarried young people in that the only “pure” way for them to behave is celibately—in the strict Christian view, even masturbation is prohibited. Phillip Roth has well described the dilemma of the religiously/sexually repressed young in Portnoy’s Complaint as “being torn between desires that are repugnant to my conscience and a conscience repugnant to my desires.” Thus the years of adolescence and young adulthood for many Christians are poisoned by “sinful” urges, unfulfilled longings, and intense guilt (after the urges become too much to bear and are acted upon).

Even after Christian young people receive a license from church and state to have sex, they often discover that the sexual release promised by marriage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. One gathers that in marriages between those who have followed Christian rules up until marriage—that is, no sex at all—sexual ineptitude and lack of fulfillment are all too common. Even when Christian married people do have good sexual relations, the problems do not end. Sexual attractions ebb and flow, and new attractions inevitably arise. In conventional Christian relationships, one is not allowed to act on these new attractions. One is often not even permitted to admit that such attractions exist. As Sten Linnander puts it, “with traditional [Christian] morality, you have to choose between being unfaithful to yourself or to another.”

The dilemma is even worse for gay teens and young people in that Christianity never offers them release from their unrequited urges. They are simply condemned to lifelong celibacy. If they indulge their natural desires, they become “sodomites” subject not only to Earthly persecution (due to Christian-inspired laws), but to being roasted alive forever in the pit. Given the internalized homophobia Christian teachings inspire, not to mention the very real discrimination gay people face, it’s not surprising that a great many homosexually oriented Christians choose to live a lie. In most cases, this leads to lifelong personal torture, but it can have even more tragic results.

A prime example is Marshall Applewhite, “John Do,” the guru of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult. Applewhite grew up in the South in a repressive Christian fundamentalist family. Horrified by his homosexual urges, he began to think of sexuality itself as evil, and eventually underwent castration to curb his sexual urges.(4) Several of his followers took his anti-sexual teachings to heart and likewise underwent castration before, at “Do’s” direction, killing themselves.


(a) Most married Christians I know seem to have [so far as I can tell and have been told] satisfying sex lives.

(b) The pamphleteer takes what he considers extreme or strict positions [that Christians of good conscience can disagree over] and then makes those positions emblematic of Christianity-at-large. Even if he could, so what? We have the non sequitur mentioned above, namely, what does this have to do with the historical, metaphysical, etc evidence for Christianity.

(c) Semantic equivocation is employed by the pamphleteer. Thinking homosexual behavior to be wrong is not "homophobia." Thinking action X is wrong does not make somebody an X-o-phobe.

(d) The thesis that homosexual behavior could be dangerous to one's long term prospects relative to the afterlife offends the pamphleteer. Why should, on a logical level, I accept the pamphleteer's standard? There are lots of things I personally would like to do but can't because scripture clearly states that they're wrong. Is this unfair? Should I go and report God to my local ACLU for violating my rights? Can I sue God for "holding me back" and make Him pay for my subsequent therapy bills?

(e) You have to admire the chutzpah of using the leader of a cult in a giant non-sequitur example that has nothing to do with the evidences for Christianity while keeping a straight face as if you're making an actual argument.

******

I've quickly gone in stream-o'-consciousness fashion through ten arguments asking if these reasons are actually good reasons for abandoning historic Christianity. [And I haven't addressed every point that the author tries to make, to be sure.] Do these arguments present evidence that various supernatural phenomena occurred, that the eyewitnesses to the events are not trustworthy, that scripture is reliable, etc? So far, none of these points has been addressed.

So far, the arguments against Christianity aren't really arguments, but mere inventories of what the pamphleteer doesn't like about various Christians: some are mean, some are authoritarian, some may have sexual hangups, some may feel more special than the non-Christian, some may be anti-intellectual, etc.

Well, in a shocking development, we know that various atheists and leftists are mean, authoritarian, possessing sexual hangups, evidencing a big head because they're the Champions of Reason [self-appointed of course], anti-intellectual, etc. The argument cuts both ways. Actually, the non-argument cuts both ways as well. The behaviors the pamphleteer doesn't like in some are surely manifested in some of those who would have the same worldview as the pamphleteer; you'd be just as silly to use those as arguments against the pamphleteer's worldview.

In all of these arguments the pamphleteer merely compares things with his own standard. The pamphleteer is the point of reference. Now this is fine if the pamphleteer can argue as to why his views are the optimal standard of comparison. All the pamphleteer has really succeeded in doing is pointing out that there are people who behave and think differently than him, and nobody really disputes that. But as far as arguing evidentially against the reliability of the scriptures and the supernatural phenomena that Christianity claims to have happened [not to mention the metaphysical assertions that Christianity entails], we have ten arguments so far that do not hold any water; we have ten leaky buckets.

Will the pamphleteer actually come up with something that functions as an actual argument in reasons 11-20 ? Stay tuned for the next exciting post here at Pedantic Protestant....same PP time....same PP channel.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

PP at 34

I received the following mysterious email from the equally mysterious PP Aging Committee:

Dear Mr Vestrup:

Today you're 34. Happy birthday! We just want to let you know that your survival probabilities have been duly updated and adjusted to take the extra year into account. You're one year closer to your inevitable death --- keep on truckin'!

We have informed your ankles and knees to not recover as quickly from long runs. We've also given them permission to ache every now and then if you push them too hard on the basketball court. We've told your fat cells to stay the course, and we've allocated some muscular areas to be eventual fat parks. Please don't resist.

Your vision has been changed from 20/20 [with corrective lenses] to 20/25. We've changed your grey hair proportion [upward of course] to 28%. Looks like you'll have to use that box of medium-brown "Just for Men" every five weeks now instead of every six weeks.

You will notice too an increased interest in your mutual fund performance and a decreased interest in sports and pro wrestling [really, do grow up sometime]. You might find watching "Matlock" and "The Golden Girls" more palatable too.

Finally, we've increased the number of sentences of yours that begin with the words "Remember when....." and "When I was your age....." by 3.14%. Feel free to reminisce about "the good ol' days" to twenty-somethings.

All in all, enjoy your 35th year of life, and try to avoid major injury [giggle giggle] when running, playing tennis, basketball, or, say, just sitting in a chair!

Sincerely,
The PP Aging Committee

Twenty Leaky Buckets --- Part 2

At this stage I'll briefly comment on the pamphlet titled 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. Part 1 and 1.5 of this thread are located here and here, respectively. I'll refer to the enumerated fallacies (1)-(5) mentioned in Part 1.5.

Remember that I'm responding to this as a conservative Evangelical. I don't need to defend charges against positions not held by myself or other informed Evangelicals with a high view of the OT and NT.

(i) Christianity is based on fear.

With all of these arguments, one needs to ask one's self is this or how is this evidence against the classical Christian faith?.

This first argument is as follows:

While today there are liberal clergy who preach a gospel of love, they ignore the bulk of Christian teachings, not to mention the bulk of Christian history. Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed prior to the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice.

We reply:

(a) Note that instead of dealing with Christianity, the pamphleteer deals with the sociological dimension of Xty ["throughout almost its entire time on earth"]. This has nothing to do with whether Jesus existed, was in fact divine, was crucified, was buried, was resurrected, etc.

(b) The pamphleteer commits fallacy (3) from the previous post in attempting to impute to Xty the behavior of those who "attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature—fear and cowardice."

(c) Yes, the existence of hell and personal noncorporeal evil agents are part of orthodox Christianity. That these concepts offend the pamphleteer in no way aids his cause. Mere outrage at a concept is not an argument. This is an instantiation of fallacy (2).

In the end, it is hard to see how this argument carries any water. Even if the worst claims made are true, this doesn't provide any sort of probative evidence for/against the supernatural-historical claims of Christianity. It's just, in the end, an affectation of outrage.

*****

Argument two is as follows: Christianity preys on the innocent.

(ii) If Christian fear-mongering were directed solely at adults, it would be bad enough, but Christians routinely terrorize helpless children through grisly depictions of the endless horrors and suffering they’ll be subjected to if they don’t live good Christian lives. Christianity has darkened the early years of generation after generation of children, who have lived in terror of dying while in mortal sin and going to endless torment as a result. All of these children were trusting of adults, and they did not have the ability to analyze what they were being told; they were simply helpless victims, who, ironically, victimized following generations in the same manner that they themselves had been victimized. The nearly 2000 years of Christian terrorizing of children ranks as one of its greatest crimes. And it’s one that continues to this day.

As an example of Christianity’s cruel brainwashing of the innocent, consider this quotation from an officially approved, 19th-century Catholic children’s book (Tracts for Spiritual Reading, by Rev. J. Furniss, C.S.S.R.):


Look into this little prison. In the middle of it there is a boy, a young man. He is silent; despair is on him . . . His eyes are burning like two burning coals. Two long flames come out of his ears. His breathing is difficult. Sometimes he opens his mouth and breath of blazing fire rolls out of it. But listen! There is a sound just like that of a kettle boiling. Is it really a kettle which is boiling? No; then what is it? Hear what it is. The blood is boiling in the scalding veins of that boy. The brain is boiling and bubbling in his head. The marrow is boiling in his bones. Ask him why he is thus tormented. His answer is that when he was alive, his blood boiled to do very wicked things.

There are many similar passages in this book. Commenting on it, William Meagher, Vicar-General of Dublin, states in his Approbation:

"I have carefully read over this Little Volume for Children and have found nothing whatever in it contrary to the doctrines of the Holy Faith; but on the contrary, a great deal to charm, instruct and edify the youthful classes for whose benefit it has been written."


We reply:

(a) Again, this is a sociological claim, not an evidential claim. The empty tomb, resurrection, veracity of scripture, etc, is not affected by the author's outrage at the following events. All this argument shows is that the above anecdote about Hell and children really irks the pamphleteer. But I thought we were talking about evidences for/against Christianity. Must be my mistake.

(b) If Hell is truly as described above, then the citation in the childeren's Catholic book is merely stating something that is true. If Hell is not truly as described above, then that's one freaky excerpt. But again, the so-called argument above doesn't get to whether Hell is or is not truly as described above, so we have more argument-by-outrage here.

(c) Having instantiated fallacies (2) and (3), and having held a belief system responsible for some of its adherents, doesn't it seem rather one-sided for the pamphleteer to ignore the good works of charity done by Rome and other Christians throughout the ages?

******

So far, some under the banner of Christianity have, according to the pamphleteer, preyed on fear and terrorized the innocent. Whether Christianity is actually true or supported by the historical/metaphysical evidence is still untouched. The pamphleteer's main thesis sits at home on a Friday night still waiting by the phone for an actual argument to call up for a date.

*****

Reason number three is that Christianity is based on dishonesty:

(iii) The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire "belief." ("Lip service" is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the dollars and obedience that go with it) in place of genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.

How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This "wager" holds that it’s safer to "believe" in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it does, it will save "believers" and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief. If the patriarchal God of Christianity really exists, one wonders how it would judge the cowards and hypocrites who advance and bow to this particularly craven "wager."


In turn, we say the following.

(a) The first paragraph is a sociological indictment not of a conservative Evangelical like myself, but of two groups: the fear-mongerers and the liberals. I'm neither. Nothing to respond to here.

But let's say I was a member of either of these groups. Again, what does this have to do with the cross, the empty tomb, the veracity of scripture, etc? It's hard to see just how the author's outrage qualifies as an actual argument here.

(b) The second paragraph is classic village atheism. The author's outrage at an argument that he doesn't like [I don't much like the argument either] somehow, in his mind, is evidence against the truth of Christianity. The scholarly response to such an unwarranted leap is this: Whatever, d00d.

*******

The fourth reason to abandon Christianity is the extreme arrogance and egotism it brings about:

(iv) The deep egocentrism of Christianity is intimately tied to its reliance on fear. In addition to the fears of the devil and hell, Christianity plays on another of humankind’s most basic fears: death, the dissolution of the individual ego. Perhaps Christianity’s strongest appeal is its promise of eternal life. While there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, most people are so terrified of death that they cling to this treacly promise insisting, like frightened children, that it must be true. Nietzsche put the matter well: "salvation of the soul—in plain words, the world revolves around me." It’s difficult to see anything spiritual in this desperate grasping at straws—this desperate grasping at the illusion of personal immortality.

Another manifestation of the extreme egotism of Christianity is the belief that God is intimately concerned with picayune aspects of, and directly intervenes in, the lives of individuals. If God, the creator and controller of the universe, is vitally concerned with your sex life, you must be pretty damned important. Many Christians take this particular form of egotism much further and actually imagine that God has a plan for them, or that God directly talks to, directs, or even does favors for them.(1) If one ignored the frequent and glaring contradictions in this supposed divine guidance, and the dead bodies sometimes left in its wake, one could almost believe that the individuals making such claims are guided by God. But one can’t ignore the contradictions in and the oftentimes horrible results of following such "divine guidance." As "Agent Mulder" put it (perhaps paraphrasing Thomas Szasz) in a 1998 X-Files episode, "When you talk to God it’s prayer, but when God talks to you it’s schizophrenia. . . . God may have his reasons, but he sure seems to employ a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders."

In less extreme cases, the insistence that one is receiving divine guidance or special treatment from God is usually the attempt of those who feel worthless—or helpless, adrift in an uncaring universe—to feel important or cared for. This less sinister form of egotism is commonly found in the expressions of disaster survivors that "God must have had a reason for saving me" (in contrast to their less-worthy-of-life fellow disaster victims, whom God—who controls all things—killed). Again, it’s very difficult to see anything spiritual in such egocentricity.


Ah, another argument by outrage. Never gets old. And, just like the other million arguments by outrage employed by like-minded critics, it too falls flat on its face.
We counter-reply:

(a) Whether or not the pamphleteer sees anything "spiritual" in Christians grappling or dealing with personal immortality has nothing to do with whether classical Christianity is objectively true.

(b) Perhaps Christians believe that God intervenes in individual matters, even those that might seem minor to others, because that is what scripture clearly teaches.

(c) Perhaps Christians believe that men are "damned important" because, uh, we are "damned important" according to scripture. The pamphleteer, who elsewhere excoriates Christians for hypocrisy, here excoriates those Christians who go by scripture on this point.

(d) Cheap psyhologizing is on display in the last paragraph.

Did you find an actual argument against the truth of Christianity in the fourth argument? No, I didn't either. I found the pamphleteer's angst and dislike of some Christian's behavior whether warranted or not, but I didn't find an argument.

******

Argument five deals with the arrogance and chosen-people mentality brought forth by Christianity:

(v) It’s only natural that those who believe (or play act at believing) that they have a direct line to the Almighty would feel superior to others. This is so obvious that it needs little elaboration. A brief look at religious terminology confirms it. Christians have often called themselves "God’s people," "the chosen people," "the elect," "the righteous," etc., while nonbelievers have been labeled "heathens," "infidels," and "atheistic Communists" (as if atheism and Communism are intimately connected). This sets up a two-tiered division of humanity, in which "God’s people" feel superior to those who are not "God’s people."

That many competing religions with contradictory beliefs make the same claim seems not to matter at all to the members of the various sects that claim to be the only carriers of "the true faith." The carnage that results when two competing sects of "God’s people" collide—as in Ireland and Palestine—would be quite amusing but for the suffering it causes.


By way of reply:

(a) Perhaps Christians refer to themselves as "God's elect" or "God's chosen" because scripture refers to them that way.

(b) That some in "God's elect" might feel intrinsically superior to "the heathens" might be a true sociological statement [it is], but again, it has no logical bearing on the evidences for Christianity.

(c) Did you hear that sound? That's the pamphleteer rending his garment over the problem of competing worldviews in the final paragraph. According to him, the fact that people believe differently and hold to different worldviews is an argument against Christianity.

But, this is self-refuting, for the same argument would apply to atheism --- not everybody is an atheist, nor is everybody in agreement with the pamphleteer's worldview [whatever that might be]. So, is this an argument against the pamphleteer's worldview?

BTW --- even as a liberal atheist undergrad, it struck me as a copout for somebody to complain that there were many competing worldviews, as if that very fact rendered having a thought-out life impossible. When you deal with competing positions, you try to delineate the evidence, arguments for, arguments against, etc and decide on the basis of that evidence. People will do this in politics and other areas, but when it turns to "religion," somehow the rules of argumentation and such go out the window. I've never understood that.

I was hoping to find an actual argument against Christianity by the fifth part of the pamphlet. But, just as I hoped to find a Colecovision under the tree in '83 [or '84], it just wasn't there.

******

Let's offer some brief closing thoughts for Part 2 here.

Like much of village atheist lit and mentality that I've seen, the question of whether Christianity is true, its evidences, etc, is not touched. Instead, we're treated to an inventory of what the VA doesn't like about Christianity. The VA doesn't like Doctrine X. The VA finds hypocrite Y offensive. The VA thinks that behavior Z by group Q of Christians is repugnant. And so on.

These aren't arguments against the veracity of the central historical claims of Christianity. At best, it indicates that there are hypocrites in Christianity. But since when has that been news?

The Christian faith is not based on the sociological outworkings of its adherents. It is based on certain supernatural phenomena in man's history as well as certain metaphysical theses regarding God and reality. To get at the heart of Christianity, one must attack these and stop expressing public outrage over the guy with a Jesus bumper sticker who cut you off on Interstate 80 the other day.

We'll have Part 3 by tomorrow, hopefully.